‘Mellow Mud’ reviews
“A New Beginning”, Zane Balčus
This is a story about an unusually strong personality – a girl named Raya. She is willing to stand for herself and her loved ones despite the difficulties she faces in a godforsaken corner of Latvia, the reserved, bleak but also beautiful environment that is depicted by the film’s heartfelt camera work.
Raya will soon turn 18, and she is admirably strong in her opinions. She is used to being independent, because neither her father nor her mother (who has gone to London to work) take care of the family anymore. Thus, Raya and her little brother, Robis, are left to live with their overbearing grandmother on an old farm with a large apple orchard. They depend on their grandmother, because she is their guardian and their only protection against being sent to the orphanage. But an unexpected event threatens to destroy their uncertain lives, so the sister and brother must make a difficult decision and keep it a secret. Raya has a goal – she wants to keep the old house, she wants to live there, and she wants her mother to come back. She studies English so that she can visit her mother and convince her to come back to Latvia, thereby intertwining into the story a major issue affecting the country, namely, of its citizens moving abroad in search of jobs and a better life.
Raya’s sexuality is awakened by her handsome, young English teacher. Extra classes taken to prepare for an English language contest turn into a romantic relationship full of dreams and disappointment.
Raya’s character is extraordinary and attractive due to her strong will and knowing exactly what she wants, despite her young age. Although she is going through very significant moments that form the personality of a young person – first love, duties, taking responsibility – her opinions and desires are already developed. She knows that the farm is her passion and that she wants to continue living and working there, so she is willing to take any risks to keep it. She also knows that she can rely only on herself. The development of a personality in such coming-of-age stories is most commonly represented as a process in which the protagonist finds his or her actual truth after experiencing a number of difficulties. But this is not so with Raya – her road of initiation leads to an even more powerful awareness of her personality and strength rather than simply the formation of it.
Raya’s appeal is largely the merit of Elīna Vaska, a novice in cinema who during the shooting of the film had not yet started her studies in acting at the Latvian Academy of Culture, where she currently studies. Vaska has invested her character with strength, sensuality and tenderness hidden in bitterness, which is a must for a survivor. This is also the first cinema role for Andžejs Jānis Lilientāls, who plays Robis. Experienced supporting actors Edgars Samītis (English teacher), Zane Jančevska (social worker), Ruta Birgere (grandmother) and Rēzija Kalniņa (mother) provide strong backing for both young protagonists.
“Mellow Mud” also marks a new beginning for film director Renārs Vimba, who is both the screenwriter and director of this, his first full-length fiction film. Vimba studied cinematography and directing at the Latvian Academy of Culture and has also studied under director and screenwriter Boris Frumin at the Baltic Film and Media School in Tallinn; he has continued improving his skills at workshops in various countries and has made several short films. Regarding Raya, he says, “I was attracted by her idealism, directness and courage, so I just had to follow her lead and, leaving behind any slogans or made-up conceptual and artistic ambitions, tell her story to the audience as honestly as possible.”
Icelandic director of photography Arnar Thorisson, who imparted expressiveness to the scenes of Latvian nature, also played a significant role in creating this true story, as did well-known composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, who wrote his first motion picture soundtrack for this film.
“Mellow Mud” is the first full-length picture produced by the film production company “Tasse Film”, although the company has several more full-length fiction films currently in production. The studio was founded by two producers whose admirable creative biographies already include such work as “Mother, I Love You” (2013, directed by Jānis Nords, produced by Alise Ģelze, winner of the Jury Prize in the Generation section of the Berlin International Film Festival) and “The Documentarian” (2012, directed by Ivars Zviedris, producer Aija Bērziņa, winner of many film festival awards).